Even with Turkey moving closer to mass immunity to the coronavirus through imported vaccines that are widely available in the country, a nationally developed vaccine is proving extremely popular among volunteers. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has announced that 846,451 people have volunteered online for phase 3 trials of the inactive Turkovac vaccine, well above the 40,800 sought for the final stage of its development.
Phase 3 trials began on Tuesday for Turkovac, which is being developed by a group of scientists from Erciyes University in central Kayseri province and Turkey’s health institutes, a coordinating body of health agencies controlled by the ministry of Health, which supervises and assists in the creation of vaccines. The vaccine is among 18 others developed against the deadly disease and is expected to be the first to become available if trials are successful and the Department of Health approves. The ministry added a new feature to its e-Nabız (e-Pulse) app, which allows users to track their health status, for vaccinated volunteers. Volunteers are selected from people between the ages of 18 and 55, uninfected with COVID-19, not injected with other coronavirus vaccines, and not diagnosed with chronic diseases affecting immunity.
Turkovac has reportedly proven its safety and effectiveness in two previous phases and Koca said at the vaccine introduction ceremony on Tuesday that the formulation will not change for the vaccine he has dubbed “our nation’s pride”. The country plans to make it available for public use by the end of this year and is considering exports to other countries.
Turkovac, previously known as ERUCOV-VAC before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renamed it on Tuesday, was developed in seven months by a team of scientists led by Professor Aykut Özdarendeli. It began its Phase I trials in November 2020. Phase II trials began on February 10 and no side effects have yet been reported in volunteers.
It can also be used for a third dose as a large number of people have already been vaccinated by Chinese Sinovac and German Pfizer-BioNTech. Sinovac’s CoronaVac is an inactive vaccine like Turkovac, while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Russia’s adenovirus-based Sputnik V vaccine is also expected to be included in the country’s vaccine inventory soon.
Turkish scientists are also working on an innovative virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine.
Ankara has so far received 24.6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, including more than 20 million in June. Authorities want to guarantee the delivery of more than 6 million additional doses by the end of this month. A total of 120 million doses are expected to be delivered by September. So far, the country has received 34.5 million doses of CoronaVac and a batch of 400,000 doses of Sputnik V, according to media reports.
Turkey administered more than 44 million doses during its vaccination campaign which began in January 2021 and exceeded the number of vaccinations of most countries. After battling hesitation over vaccines and delays in vaccine imports, it has broken daily immunization records, surpassing 1 million per day in the past two weeks. Between May 30 and June 6, a total of 1.8 million people were vaccinated across the country, while the number rose to 7.7 million from June 14 to 20. On June 17, he broke a record with over 1.5 million jabs administered in one day.
The numbers are the result of the Health Ministry’s inclusion of new groups in the campaign, almost daily. Although the campaign began with a focus on age, with older citizens vaccinated first, it has spread this summer to professional groups of all ages, from teachers to factory workers. . Places have also diversified and the public can now find a place in the factories, in the fields and orchards where they work, or, as in some cities, in shopping centers or tents set up in busy squares.
Currently, people aged 25 and over are eligible for the jabs and the government plans to lower it to 18 by the end of this month.
The Department of Health recently launched a public awareness campaign under the slogan “we are rolling up our sleeves” to encourage more people to get vaccinated. This week, the ministry released celebrity videos, including big-screen legend Şener Şen, actress Ezgi Mola, famous Turkish-American doctor Mehmet Öz and Emmy-winning actor Haluk Bilginer.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Utkan Tekin, 25, as he received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday at the Ankara City Hospital in the capital. “The whole world is getting vaccinated. We must end this pandemic, ”Tekin said, calling on other young people to get bitten. “I didn’t feel any pain or any side effects. Please don’t be afraid. He told the Anadolu Agency (AA) that young people who socialize more spread the virus more and should be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Not everyone is supporting the campaign, however, as the country confronts anti-vaccinees, skeptics and reluctant people, encouraging them to get vaccinated. Conspiracy theories proliferating on social media are leading an anti-vaccine campaign. Some companies that urge their employees to get vaccinated have drawn anger from anti-vaccines who, among other things, claim that vaccines cause infertility, disregarding scientific studies on the absence of harmful effects of vaccines. BIM, one of Turkey’s largest discount chain stores, was the latest target in an anti-vaccination campaign that purported to force employees to get vaccinated. The company has denied the allegations.
More doses, more relief
Reluctance to vaccinate may persist, but better days are ahead with more doses, according to Professor Mustafa Necmi Ilhan, who is a member of the Ministry of Health’s coronavirus scientific advisory board. He says Turkey must have 50 million people vaccinated with both doses to get real relief from the pandemic. So far, more than 14.6 million people have received both doses.
He said Turkey had achieved results with its lockdown measures and its case count was around 5,000 or 6,000 for most of the last month. “The vaccination is at a good level. Personal protective measures and rapid vaccination will help our fight against the pandemic, ”he told AA on Wednesday.
The professor noted that access to the vaccine has also improved dramatically and that next week everyone who is eligible for the vaccine will be able to get vaccinated anywhere from clinics to outdoor sites.
However, he said vaccination would not eliminate the pandemic entirely while enjoying Turkey’s vaccination campaign as a country “in the center of the world, where people travel a lot to and from”. Nonetheless, vaccinations give people the opportunity to contract the infection at a reduced capacity, as even those who have been vaccinated can become infected.
The “mortality potential is also very low,” he added. “With more people vaccinated, the less serious the infections will be. After a while, the virus will be unable to find new hosts. “
Ilhan also warned of a potential increase in the number of cases after restrictions were eased from July 1. On Monday, Erdoğan announced that all blockages and curfews would be lifted on that date, while restrictions on inter-city and intra-city travel would also be lifted. “We will see if there will be an increase and if it would be limited to certain regions or increase nationally due to a variant,” he said. Erdoğan called on the public not to abandon measures such as masks, social distancing and hygiene even as the number of vaccinations increases and there are fewer new cases every day.
Addressing the mandatory mask rule, something the majority of the public expects to be lifted, Ilhan said people should continue to wear masks in crowded places but can remove them when they are overcrowded. outdoors, if they have received both doses of the vaccine and can stay at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) from others, in parks and other places.